This time of year it’s a little hard to feel bad for retailers. We’re coming off another record shopping season. It doesn’t matter if you’re an online retailer like Solid Signal or a more traditional, brick and mortar type store. This past holiday season has been good for everyone. But, it has not always been that way.
Pour one out for these 40 stores
No matter what decade you grew up in, there are stores you remember from childhood. Whether you were on the west coast, east coast, or the great heartland, there was a store that makes you smile, even though it’s gone now.
Good Housekeeping gives us a photo slideshow of stores that closed in the past. They’re billing it for “folks born in the ’50s or ’60s” but really there are some stores that closed just a decade ago. I bet millennials will like this slideshow just as much as their boomer and Gen-X parents. It’s a hit parade of the stores you used to spend time in as a kid.
The ones they didn’t list
The article is from earlier this year and so they didn’t really focus on this year’s biggest retail failure.
Sears and Kmart became part of the same company in 2005, in a move that was supposed to stop the eventual demise of both. It didn’t.
It’s sad – Sears was once the dominant retail presence in this country. For most of the 20th century, Sears owned retail. Their Chicago headquarters were the tallest in the world. They sold everything from screws to houses. Yes, Sears used to sell houses. I’m serious. Generation after generation relied on Sears.
Kmart was just as much of a powerhouse. Before Sam Walton went national, Kmart was the shopper’s choice for reasonably priced stuff. Like other discounters of the day, many Kmarts had restaurants, too. They were bona fide social clubs for the middle class.
Now, Sears and Kmart stores are closing faster than you can even look for one. Both chains will probably be gone completely by the end of 2020, although it’s fair to say they’re already gone from most of America.
There’s one more I want to add. Every city had its own department stores. If you were out west you might remember Harris’ while folks in New York might remember the Bon Marche. But Bostonians had a truly unique retail opportunity with Lechmere stores.
Lechmere (pronounced “leech-meere”) was a small chain that had 24 stores. They were unique for offering such a weird selection of merchandise.
The typical Lechmere experience was similar to Circuit City stores in the 1990s where you found what you wanted, brought a tag to a central location, and your merchandise came down a long metal rolling path. What made Lechmere unique was the stuff you were likely to find.
Lechmere stores were known for the best selection of computers and gaming equipment in the 1980s, and their selection of Walkman-style cassette players was simply unparalleled. They also sold snakeskin boots and pies. Though the store had been an average, general-purpose department store throughout most of its life, the chain’s sale to Dayton-Hudson (later known as the Target Corporation) gave them the money to try something really unique.
Although the chain briefly flourished by entertaining customers with weird products, they couldn’t keep up the momentum. In 1994 the chain was sold to Montgomery Ward (another store that’s since closed) and by 1997, it was gone.
Tell your story
What was the best store in your city that isn’t there anymore? Obviously I think it’s great that online shopping is here to stay, but like you all I miss the stores of my youth. Tell us a little bit more about your favorites in the comments below.